In a hearing earlier this month, members of Congress questioned federal environmental health officials about new lead poisoning risks revealed in an investigation by USA Today. The newspaper’s extensive investigation revealed lead poisoning risks posed by over 230 old lead factory sites across the country, including multiple smelter sites in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.
“Generations of children are growing up playing in the shadow of these lead smelting plants,” Senator Frank Lautenberg (D- N.J.) explained. Investigation has revealed that although these “ghost factories” closed decades ago the soil around them remains contaminated, and lead particles from these sites have migrated into neighborhoods putting children in danger.
Other sources of lead exposure for children are lead-based paints and soil contaminated by leaded gasoline emissions. Children may touch contaminated surfaces with their hands or toys; they then may ingest the lead by touching their hands or toys to their mouths. Even tiny amounts of lead poisoning in children can result in reductions in IQ and attention disorders.
This past May the CDC announced it would reduce by 50 percent the amount of lead required in a child’s body to meet the definition of lead poisoning and trigger protective actions by health officials. The previous standard had stood for two decades. The CDC’s director went so far as to say, “No safe blood lead level for children has been identified.” According to the agency’s estimates, over 500,000 children in the U.S. five and under have blood-lead levels higher than the revised standard.
Even though more children are now considered at risk for lead poisoning the government has dramatically cut funding for lead-poisoning prevention from $29 million in fiscal year 2011 to only $2 million currently. A bill to restore some of that funding is now pending in the House.
Source: USA Today, “EPA, CDC officials testify to Senate on child lead poisoning,” Alison Young, July 12, 2012.